Architect Steven Holl
Steven Holl’s architectural work is widely recognised and covers extensive ground ranging from the museums, educational facilities, residences, retail design, office design, public utilities, and master planning. Read ahead for the questions with Steven Holl.
How would you describe your signature style?
I believe that architecture needs to be completely anchored in its program and site. Its meaning must be so deeply rooted in the conditions of its inception that it’s unfazed by fashion. My first book ‘Anchoring’ describes the relation of a building to a site, to its culture and to its metaphysical origins. If architecture’s original concept can go deeper, rather than broader, it builds a meaning on the site. It fortifies a locus of thoughts and philosophical hopes, or even humor and stories, which are oblivious to whatever style it is.
What role does green building play into your work?
The 21st century presents us with one third of the earth already developed, much of it in sprawling waste. A fundamental change of attitude, a re-visioning of values must take place. We emphasize sustainable building and site development as fundamental to innovative and imaginative design.
In Shenzhen China, a city that went from 8,000 to a population of over 12 million, natural landscape has been rapidly obliterated. New strategies for cultivation of urban vegetation are crucial to maintain a balance of flora and fauna as well as natural aquifers and general climatic balance.
Advanced structural technologies and construction techniques open up the potential for new flying architectures, horizontal skyscrapers and public function bridges developing new urban layers. Our multifunctional “horizontal skyscraper” in Shenzhen, China won the architectural competition due to the maximizing of public landscape while rising to the 35m height limit and maximizing distant ocean views from the living/working spaces. Due to sophisticated combinations of “cable-stay” bridge technology merged with a high strength concrete frame there are no trusses in this floating skyscraper. The lush tropical landscape below is be open to the public and will contain restaurants and cafés in vegetated mounds bracketed with pools and walkways.
What is the greatest challenge when it comes to designing for environmental sustainability?
The space, the geometry, the light of architecture in great proportions must remain the core aim, while engineering aims for zero carbon, ultra-green architecture. But this balance between the poetry of architecture and its green engineering is crucial.
Do you design your buildings with a strong focus on user experience and natural light?
Space is oblivion without light. A building speaks through the silence of perception orchestrated by light. Luminosity is as integral to its spatial experience as porosity is integral to urban experience.
For our Helsinki Museum of Contemporary Art, Kiasma the most important building material was light. Of the twenty-five galleries which make up the main function of the museum all have a slice of natural light. The behavior of light guided many decisions. The low angle of the Helsinki sun – never reaching above 51 degrees – helps give sectional form to the curved “light catching” aspect of the architecture. Changes in natural lighting conditions are left visible – so passing clouds bring shadow – brightness varies as the interior experience varies.
We conceive of the space, light and concept of a work from the very beginning. Often in concept watercolors the aspects of light are there in the first sketch, integral to the concept of the architecture, unique to the site and place. The infinite possibilities of light have been evident from the beginning of architecture and will continue into the future. The revelations of new spaces, like interwoven languages, dissolve and reappear in light. In magnificent spaces, light changes and appears to describe form.